Two men charged for 164 pounds of marijuana had their charges dismissed after a judge ruled the search unlawful, reports the Mitchell Republic.
Judge Chris Giles decided to suppress 164 pounds of marijuana that a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper uncovered during the search. This was due to the search taking place after the trooper had already issued a ticket for a separate traffic violation.
Giles also pointed to the lack of video evidence showing Donald Jackson, the 52-year-old driver, following a semi-truck too closely. The trooper questioned passenger Cecil Jones after he issued Jackson a warning ticket for an unrelated traffic violation. Judge Giles ruled that the officer’s questioning was also inadmissible. State law says once a traffic investigation is completed, “an officer must allow the driver to proceed without further constraint.”
Unlawful, Warrantless, Unreasonable Search
Trooper Jordan Anderson testified that he told Jackson to stay in the patrol car following the traffic citation. The trooper claimed that was so he could return Jones’ ID. During the exchange, the trooper asked Jones if there was any marijuana being in the vehicle. Jones replied “a lot.”
“Trooper Anderson cannot prolong the stop beyond the purpose of the traffic violation in an attempt to obtain reasonable suspicion for the second detention,” wrote Giles. The judge also noted the trooper “needed reasonable suspicion prior to the second detention, which he did not have.”
Attorneys Doug Dailey and Sonny Walter represented Jones and Jackson at the Sept. 16 hearing. They argued Anderson’s search was “unlawful, warrantless” and “unreasonable” due to the trooper prolonging the stop based on unrelated matters.
“You used that as another opportunity to continue the investigation for a stop that was already completed,” Walter said.
Apparently The Trooper Wanted Eye Contact From Drivers…?
Anderson’s reasoning behind pulling the Missouri men over on Mar. 15 along Interstate 90 also drew concern for Judge Giles. The trooper pointed to Jackson not making eye contact with him while driving by his patrol car. He also objected to the men “appearing nervous” as another reason he began following their vehicle.
“[T]he driver appeared to be staring straight ahead and wouldn’t make eye contact like I didn’t exist,” a deeply injured Anderson whined. “When I got alongside them, the driver appeared to be extremely nervous and staring straight ahead and wouldn’t look at me.”
However, Giles noted he found it “very troubling” Anderson deemed the men not making eye contact with him as “suspicious.”
Giles added it was “concerning” that Anderson activated his patrol lights after observing the men were Black. They also had out-of-state license plates.
While Giles wrote Anderson “does not strike” the court as someone who would engage in racial profiling, he noted the stop didn’t “look and feel right” from the beginning.
They Were Facing 30 Years!
At the Sept. 16 hearing, Dailey questioned the trooper if “he stops every vehicle driver who doesn’t make eye contact with him,” to which Anderson replied “no.”
In addition, Dailey asked Anderson if it’s common practice to follow a car if the driver doesn’t make eye contact with officers, to which Anderson replied “I’m looking at the totality of the circumstances.”
“So you assumed they were appearing nervous because they didn’t look at you. You indicated they dropped their speed to 65 mph, would that be fair to say that was because they were approaching a semi that was also driving slower than the speed limit,” Dailey said during the Sept. 16 hearing.
Giles decided to suppress the 164 pounds of marijuana as evidence because of an unlawful search. The weed was used to charge the men with possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute one or more pounds of marijuana.
All, therefore, that resulted from the traffic stop was Jackson’s warning ticket for following a semi too closely.
Jackson and Jones were facing a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison and a $60,000 fine for the Class 3 felonies, had the charges been upheld.